May 28, 2024 at 1:05 a.m.
Guest Columnist

What’s Up With Ramen (Besides The Price)?

When times get tougher, demand for cheap, filling food goes up.

TAMMY WILSON | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Some say that unused billboards indicate a downturn in the economy. Unrented space means companies are slashing their marketing budgets to make ends meet.

A closer-to-home indicator is ramen noodles.

When times get tougher, demand for cheap, filling food goes up. Ramen tends to sell out because people know they’re easy to cook and stretch the budget.  And nothing fills that bill (or the bowl) better than ramen.

Remember the empty shelves during the pandemic? I mean, besides the empty toilet paper sections. Ramen and soups in general were in short supply because so many people were out of work and had the time to heat up a simple meal.

The cheap, precooked noodles, originally targeted at Japanese consumers in the lean years after the war, entered the US market as a popular option for students or anyone else trying to stretch a dollar. And there was a time not so long ago, that you could buy them for as little as 10 cents a pack.

Gradually, the price edged up to .12, then .15 and .20.

Then, last week, I saw ramen packs priced for .79 at Food Lion. That may have been a fluke. I see Walmart has them for .30 a pack, and Dollar Tree is selling five for $1.50. Still, that’s a 50 percent increase from $1.

For anyone who shops for groceries each week, this isn’t big news. Remember the $4 and $5/dozen prices stores were asking 18 months ago? The bird flu contagion necessitated the culling (killing) of millions of chickens which led to—ta da—a shortage of eggs. And then it dawned on consumers (and government agencies) that eggs are used in a lot of stuff, from noodles to cake mix to pancakes to meatloaf. Fewer eggs available meant the price would skyrocket. And it did.

Contrary to what you may assume, eggs aren’t use to make ramen. Rather, those stringy noodles contain wheat flour, water, sale and kanui, a mineral that makes the noodles elastic and chewy. But the chief ingredient—wheat—is a major contributor to the overall price, it so happens that the wheat is being squeezed worldwide from to poor crop conditions, labor costs and supply chain issues that don’t seem to ever go away.  As supply dwindles and demand remains, prices go up.

Not to worry, inflation is only transitory, the feds told us back in 2021.  

Been to McDonald’s or Burger King lately?  I ordered a Whopper Jr. combo the other day and paid well over $7. I hear there’s a special on now for $5, but I arrived a couple of days early and two dollars short. And while it helps to play the coupon game and take advantage of special offers, but they call them “special” for a reason. They aren’t available every day.

Whoever claimed food prices would go through the roof in 2024 knew what they were talking about. Every time I go to the store, I see rising prices and wonder how the average family gets by. Making the choice whether to pay the rent or utilities or put food on the table is more than an old saw of politicians.

Whenever I mention rising prices, some remind me that I shouldn’t worry if I can afford to buy groceries. But not everybody can. Folks who run local food pantries say the need has definitely increased while the ability to meet the demand has decreased. And I know from history, when people go hungry, bad things happen.

Which brings me back to ramen. Forget the .79 price, try the Dollar Tree example. Five packs for $1.50. That’s 50 percent more than the $1 price we remember.  

Has your income risen 50 percent?  

Nope, neither has mine.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that April’s inflation rate was 3.4 percent over last year.

It’s one thing to see prices rise; its quite another to have the government gaslight us about it.      

---Tammy Wilson is a writer who lives near Newton. Contact her at  [email protected] .


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